Emergency Delivery Excerpt
Copyright © 2016 by Samanthe Beck. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
“You tell ’em, Hunt,” his partner Beau drawled from the passenger seat of the ambulance before resuming communications with the dispatcher at the other end of the radio.
Hunter continued to curse the slow-to-react drivers in the bumper-to-bumper traffic along Atlanta’s I-75 and steered the ambulance through the stingy lane afforded by their half-assed compliance with the move-over law. He advanced a few yards, only to hit the brake again when the driver of a late model BMW waited for a chance to change lanes instead of pulling to the shoulder. Hunter rolled up on his bumper and honked. The guy stuck his arm out the window and turned his palm up in a moronic, What-do-you-want-me-to-do? gesture.
“Pull over, dickhead. Do you not see the lights? Hear that siren? Thanks. Thanks a lot,” he muttered as the Beemer finally made his lane change. “I hope some douchebag drags his ass when you’re the one waiting for help.”
“Point seven miles ahead, right shoulder,” Beau instructed. They’d worked together long enough that neither the stream of profanity nor the criminal idiocy of allegedly licensed drivers got a rise out of him.
A glance over the traffic offered visual confirmation. Hunter spotted the emergency lights of a state patrol cruiser. “Got it. I don’t suppose dispatch divulged any more details?” All they’d received so far was vague information about a female driver in distress following a rear-end collision, which meant Atlanta Fire Rescue wasn’t faring any better with the traffic. They were getting their information—such as it was—from the Georgia State Patrol.
“Nothing more, except the troopers on the scene say—and I quote—‘Hurry.’”
“Well, shit, guess I’ll get off the scenic route.” He flicked the blinker and made his way to the shoulder. The first responders had placed flares around a shiny new white minivan and beat-up maroon Outback with a crunched back bumper. He pulled in behind the cruiser rather than burn time trying to get past the vehicles and park in front of the Outback. He’d barely hit the brake when Beau stepped out, grabbed the primary response kit, and headed toward the trooper standing beside the minivan. The uniform continued talking to a middle-aged man who was presumably the driver, but waved Beau to the other car.
Hunter fell into step as they approached the Outback. A female trooper crouched by the back passenger-side door, leaning into the compartment, but she retreated a bit when a cry came from inside the vehicle. The kind of cry that started as a low moan and ended in a scream. He quickened his pace. “What have we got?”
The trooper scrambled out of the car as if a live grenade sat inside. “The miracle of birth. Thank God you’re here. I was trying to time the contractions, but they’re coming fast—”
“Where are you going? Don’t leave!” An alarmed voice called from the back seat.
Technically, it was Beau’s turn to take the lead, but given his partner’s personal situation, Hunter figured he’d be game to trade. He glanced over and raised a brow.
“You’re attending,” Beau said. Hunter stepped up.
The trooper shook her head. “We haven’t gotten that far.”
Awesome. No name, no details. He pasted on his trust-me-I’m-a-paramedic smile and looked into the car. A woman reclined across the seat, her back propped awkwardly against the opposite door. His trained eyes absorbed initial impressions in seconds—late teens or early twenties, advanced third trimester, scared to the bone. “Hey there, Ms—”
“Where’s the woman? Lady, come back!” Her panicked, blue-gray gaze zoomed past him and scanned the area outside the car. “Please come back!”
He hunkered down and balanced his weight on his heels. Not the most comfortable position, but coming down to her level and maintaining eye contact facilitated a purposeful connection, and that, in turn, helped establish him in her mind as the primary decision maker. “She’s a state trooper. I’m a paramedic.” He waited until those wild eyes refocused on him. “Right now, you want me.”
“I want a woman! Call another paramedic. Please. I’ll wait…I’ll”—her breath hitched and she braced against a new wave of pain—
“Jeeeesuuuus. It huuuurts.”
He reached in and clasped her slender hand, noting the lack of wedding ring, and maintained the non-threatening physical link as the spasm ran its course. Eventually she relaxed her grip and sucked in air.
“If you let me take a look, I might be able to do something about the pain.” From the corner of his eye he saw Beau head back to the rig for the panic pack.
“Take a look?” she repeated and then shook her head as the ramifications sank in. “Uh-uh. No way. I’m not stripping off my panties by the side of the I-75 for the whole world to see.”
Another contraction or two and her modesty would crumble, but he’d rather not wait for that moment. Any patient concern that interfered with good care deserved to be addressed. “Nobody except me is going to see anything. They’d have to get through me first, and I’m going to protect you.” He paused to let her see he meant what he said, and then added, “You, and your baby.”
Mention of the baby had her biting her lip and blinking rapidly. Anxiety and indecision squeezed into the back seat like extra passengers, joining thick freeway smells of diesel fuel and exhaust, layered with the adrenaline-slicked scent of fear. He took her hand again. Christ, she was a tiny thing. Adolescent slim, save for pregnancy-swollen breasts and a basketball-shaped belly bobbing beneath an ocean of denim maternity dress. “Come on, sweetheart. Let me help you. Both of you.”
The back of her head hit the door with a small thump, and she stared at the duct-taped roof lining. “Oh, God. I can’t believe I’m going to give up my underwear to a fast-talking guy with a pretty face. These kinds of decisions are what got me into this mess in the first place.”
Not exactly a heartfelt declaration of trust, especially combined with the lone tear slowly rolling down her flushed, sweat-streaked cheek. Still, he rewarded her reluctant capitulation with a smile. She was being awfully brave in the face of unbelievable stress.
“Would it help if I told you I’m gay?”
Beau returned, handed him a pair of gloves and an I-knew-it look.
“Maybe.” She wiped the tear, sniffled, and lifted her head. “Are you?”
Hunter gloved up and shot her a grin. “Me and this guy”—he cocked his head at Beau—“have been partners for a long time. Say hi, Beau.”
His “partner” leaned over his shoulder and waved. “Hi…?”
“Madisonnnnn. Holy shiiiit.”
Beau dug into the pack and tossed him a sterile drape. After the contraction passed, Hunter said, “Nice to meet you, Madison. I’m Hunter Knox.” He made a point of using her name and his. Things were about to get intimate. Calling her by name told her he saw her as a person—an individual—as well as an active participant in what came next. “I’m going to help you lift your hips so I can slide this little sheet under you. Then we’re going to see what’s going on with this baby. It is just one baby, right?”
“One,” she confirmed on a shaky exhale but cooperated reasonably well while he put the drape under her and whisked her underwear off.
“Done. Good job, Madison.”
She flopped back against the seat. He arranged another sterile drape over her lap to provide her with a small sense of privacy and security. Thankfully, she kept her vehicle clean. He didn’t have to push aside a bunch of “carbage” to get where he needed to be. He worked her dress up to her waist and then finally assessed the situation.
“Hunter, I really need something for the pain now.”
Fuck it, he bet she did. Too bad that time had come and gone. “I can’t, honey. You need to push.”
“No…no…no.” She reached for the tops of the seats and struggled to sit up. “I’m not due yet. I have another three weeks.”
He put his hands on her draped knees to hold her still, and in the most matter-of-fact voice he could muster, explained, “Babies don’t have calendars, Madison. I’ve done this more than once. Trust me, it’s time to push.”
“Do something to keep her in! It’s too soon. What if she can’t…?” The next contraction took hold and she started crying, making zero progress pushing.
Keep her in. What if she can’t? One more detail he filed away. Mom expected a girl—statistically significant information because newborn boys tended to be larger and also at higher risk for complications. But he could gather information and reassure at the same time. “Three weeks is nothing, sweetheart. Counts as full-term. Have you been seeing a doctor every now and then? Have your checkups been good?”
“Yes,” she replied between pants. “I saw my doctor right after Christmas. Everything’s on track. I’m due in three weeks,” she repeated, and her little chin took on a stubborn jut. It lasted until the next contraction set in, and then she moaned through clenched teeth.
Time to get tough with her. “Push, Madison. Right now. Pant and push, gently. Feel my hand? Push against my hand.”
She dropped that stubborn little chin to her chest and bore down.
“That’s my girl,” Hunter encouraged as he watched the results. A thousand concerns and precautions ran through his head, but he kept his voice low and steady. “You’re doing great. You’re a natural.”
She clearly disagreed, because as soon as the contraction ended, she sagged back and shook her head. “I can’t. No more. I can’t do this.” Her legs started to tremble.
“Yes you can.” He said the words with an absolute certainty he was a long way from feeling. He had next to no information about the pregnancy, the state of the fetus, and he wasn’t likely to finesse much more from her at this point.
“You want me to get the cot?” Beau asked quietly from behind him.
“Uh-uh. Not yet. My girl Madison’s going to do this, right sweetheart? You’re ready to meet this baby you’ve been taking such good care of for the last nine months. Hold her in your arms and show her what a strong, brave, pretty mama she’s got.”
An exhausted sound halfway between a laugh and a sob met his pep talk. “Hunter, I don’t know if this is obvious, but doing things right isn’t my strong suit. I’ve managed to mess up pretty much…everything. Why would this be any different?”
“It is different.” He responded more sternly than he intended, but he wanted to shove the self-defeating thoughts right out of her head. The rest of her life might be a complete disaster, but she’d seen her doctor regularly, carried the baby to term, and she was doing everything he asked of her. Maybe she didn’t appreciate how often that wasn’t the case, but he did. “You’re about to do one of the most important, miraculous things a human being can do, and we’re here to make sure everything goes right.” They had her back, and he wanted her to know that. Literally, if necessary. What they really needed right now was a labor coach. His partner was going to kill him, but… “Beau’s going to come around to your side and climb in. He’ll support you while you push, okay? He’s way more comfortable than a hard car door.”
Beau didn’t miss a beat, just hustled over to the other side of the car and got in. She immediately leaned against him.
“That’s right,” his partner spoke gently. “Let me take your weight.” Then, like a fucking mind reader, he shifted her hips forward. Hunter sent him a silent look of thanks. He expected the next contraction any second, and it was go time.
Even as the thought formed, her breath hitched and her muscles clenched.
Beau told her to breathe and push. She grabbed her knees and gave a long, low groan that ended in a scream. “Oh God, I’m going to die.”
Hunter looked her in the eye. “Nobody’s going to die, Madison. I’m not going to let that happen. I promise. I can see her head.”
She leaned against Beau, but her muscles continued to fire with small, involuntary tremors. “Say hello for me,” she muttered. Her head lolled and her eyelids fluttered.
Beau sent him a worried look. Fuck, they were close, but not close enough.
“Madison.” Hunter called her name sharply and then dug up a smile for her when she opened her eyes and leveled them on him. “Stay with me, sweetheart. Listen up. This next time, when the contraction comes, I want you to push as long as you can.” Without breaking eye contact, he reached into the kit and grabbed a couple of towels and a bulb syringe. “Not hard, but long. Got it?” He placed the supplies on the drape and got ready to move fast.
The next powerful spasm gripped her. She leaned forward and put her whole body into the push. “Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.”
He repeated the prayer in his mind as a little head slid into his palm. “That’s my girl. You’re doing great.” Oh shit, the cord. “Okay, stop. Stop.”
She immediately stopped bearing down, but her heavy breaths and the whimper on each exhale told him what it cost her. He quickly slid a finger under the cord, and carefully slipped it over the baby’s head.
“Sweetheart, you’re almost done. One last push… There you go… A little more.” Neck, shoulder, perfect, perfect, perfect. He hitched his fingers into the armpit and guided the baby out. A girl, just like her mama said. She looked good. He saw her chest expand, so priority went to getting her dry and warm. Once he had her bundled up in a clean towel, he suctioned the airways as a precaution.
“Is she all right? Is she breathing?”
As if responding to her mom’s question, the baby cried out—strong enough to announce she wasn’t having any trouble drawing in air.
“Aw. Is that any way to say thank you? Want to go to your mama?” He placed the baby into Madison’s outstretched arms and then handed Beau a cap, a couple towels, and a stethoscope.
He turned his attention to Madison but kept an ear out as Beau told her all about her baby’s strong, steady heartbeat and respiration, and then collected some medical history. Madison Foley, twenty-two years old, which surprised him because he’d pegged her as younger. First pregnancy, which didn’t surprise him in the least. No allergies, no known health concerns.
The highway patrol officers fetched the gurney and retrieved Madison’s purse from the front of the Outback. In preparation for the short trip to the ambulance, Beau put the little knit cap on the bundled-up baby’s head and then held her while Hunter wrapped Madison in a blanket and lifted her onto the cot. With his arms locked around her he could feel her post-delivery shakes, and he made a mental note to put another blanket on her once they got her into the rig. As soon as he buckled her up, Beau settled the baby in her arms. Hunter took the head end of the gurney and expected to more or less disappear off her radar now, but she surprised him by angling her head until their eyes met.
“For what, sweetheart?” He kept his smile easy, hoping to earn one from her. “You did all the hard work.”
No smile. Instead she looked at him with those big blue eyes. “Back in the car, when you promised we’d be okay, how did you know?”
Beau glanced back at him from the foot of the gurney, his dark brows raised as if to say, Yeah, how did you know? Hunter shrugged. “Gotta have faith in happy endings. Otherwise what’s the point?”